Erin Steiner was never content to stick with the pack, or do things on everyone else's timeline.
"Be the engineer of your own fun train," said graduate Erin Steiner, a former cross-country and track and field athlete, reflecting on her time at Chicago.
In addition to being fun, Steiner's train always arrived ahead of schedule. Over the course of her career, Erin set the school record in the 10,000-meter run (36:52.97) and the all-time second fastest time in the 5,000-meter run (17:56.50). She was named UAA Athlete of the Week five times, made eight All-UAA teams, won All-Region honors twice, and was twice toeing the line at the NCAA championships. She led the heralded 2003 women's cross-country team to the national meet, earning herself an All-American certificate with a 27th-place finish at the event. She made the leap as an individual that spring, qualifying for a title shot in the 10,000 and finishing 12th.
It seems almost fitting that a woman with such success on the track would find her way to other milestones faster than her peers. Steiner chose to graduate early in the fall of 2004, abandoning her last two seasons of eligibility and a shot at more accolades without any regrets. "Sometimes you just know when you're ready for a certain transition. For some people that time comes in less than four years," Steiner said. "Others aren't ready for that transition, even when it comes to them."
Though Steiner did not participate in the 2005 track and field season, she was by no means forgotten. She received two of the most prestigious honors available to female athletes at the University of Chicago at the Women's Athletic Association Banquet May 10; the Patricia R. Kirby Multi-Sport Athlete Award,and the Gertrude Dudley Medal. The Kirby Award is given to the senior athlete who has won the most varsity letters, and the Dudley Medal is presented to an outstanding fourth-year for leadership and skill in women's athletics.
"After graduating early, I didn't know if I would get [the Kirby Award,] but it usually goes to a runner, so I wasn't that surprised," Steiner said. The award has been given to a track and field athlete for the past 13 years.
She was a little more surprised by the Dudley Medal. "There are a lot of really qualified athletes," Steiner said. "I did not expect it."
Steiner's athletic record would suggest that she focused her attention on the track during her years here. However, her academic curriculum vitae reveals an intimidating record in the classroom. A psychology major, Erin Steiner researched stereotype threat, specifically examining how negative stereotypes about women and math affected female performance in the topic. She confirmed that people suffering under the burden of negative stereotypes are distracted into focusing on their own image, instead of on the task at hand and their performance. This leads to a distinct descent in performance levels as compared to those of similar ability without negative stereotypes.
"I came here for the academic focus, and I remain happy about that," Steiner said.
Steiner's intellectual ambition extended beyond the college. She mixed in classes at the law school with her undergraduate and athletic pursuits.
After 10 seasons of 1,200-meter repeats, trips to Blackwell, Last Chance Meets, and "Crescat Sciencia Vita Exolatur" chants, Erin Steiner's train is on the express line to Ohio State, where she will enter law school in the fall.
"It's really different," Steiner said. "I can't wait."